The Map of Tiny Perfect Things

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Encouraged by a review I saw somewhere, and not wanting to watch another episode of the increasingly dour Blacklist, I switched to the new Roku, and watched this on Amazon Prime. Even better than I expected! It's smart, funny, moving, well-acted, … that's fine by me.

It wouldn't hurt if you've seen Groundhog Day. (I've watched it probably a dozen times.) Because we come in where our hero, Mark, has been dropped into one of those temporal loops, he's already figured it out, and he's gotten to the point where Bill Murray was about 80% of the way through his movie: choreographing his day down to the second. Doing good deeds, trying to put the moves on a pretty girl, stuff like that. Until midnight, when he's transported back to his bedroom for another trip through the same day.

But one day he meets Margaret, who's also aware that she's temporally trapped. (This is something that never happened to Bill Murray.) They travel through their town, looking for amazing moments (aka, "Tiny Perfect Things"): an eagle grabbing a fish from a lake, an impromptu concert from a music store's after-hours custodian, …

But Margaret has a secret, preventing her from Taking Things To The Next Level with Mark. Mark, being a gentleman, takes that about as well he can. But he starts trying to find ways to break out of the loop. An ambition Margaret doesn't share.

If you're looking to fill a 1 hour and 36 minute hole in your life, and you have Amazon Prime, this is a pretty good choice.

Sudden Fear

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

An early run of the Adjective Noun movie title algorithm generator. Fatal Instinct, Endless Love, Indecent Proposal, Blazing Saddles, … was this the first?

Also, it's a big eyebrow fight between Joan Crawford and Gloria Grahame. Has any subsequent actress ever approached these two icons?

Well, anyway: Joan plays Myra Hudson, a very rich playwright. As the movie opens, she's arranging to have Lester (Jack Palance!) fired from a leading role in her new play. Turns out to be a good move because the play's a hit, making Myra even richer. She hops a train back home to San Francisco, but who should show up on the same train, but … Lester!

Love unexpectedly blooms, because Lester's a charmer. But is there more going on? You bet, and it becomes explicit when Irene (Gloria Grahame) shows up unexpectedly; it turns out she and Lester had a previous relationship. They conspire! Will Myra survive?

For a 1952 movie, it's pretty racy. And there's lots of 1950s San Francisco scenery. Joan Crawford and Jack Palance got Oscar nominations. Neither won, but if they'd had a category for Overacting, I think Joan would have easily won that.

Trivia: In the credits is a guy named "Touch Connors". When he eventually shows up: "Hey, that's Mannix!"

Even more trivial: the credits devote an entire screen to the folks behind Joan Crawford's dresses, hats, furs, hair, and makeup. It takes a village.

Red Sparrow

[2.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

The MPAA has a long list of reasons for Red Sparrow's R rating: "strong violence, torture, sexual content, language and some graphic nudity". That last bit being, I think, that you see a guy's wiener. And there's lots of cigarettes.

Dominika (Jennifer Lawrence) is a dancer with the Bolshoi Ballet, but her career is cut short by a gruesome on-stage collision. (An accident! Or is it?) Not only her career, but also getting cut off is her nice apartment and her ailing mom's health care. Fortunately, she has an uncle who's a bigwig in the Служба внешней разведки Российской Федерации. (Or the "SVR", a KGB-successor organization).

Wait, did I say "fortunately"? No, that's wrong. Because she gets sent to Sparrow School, where comely Russian lasses are taught to use their wiles to seduce SVR targets. Pretty soon Dominika is probably wishing she'd gone to work at the borscht cannery instead. She's given the assignment of seducing American spy Nate, trying to uncover the identity of the mole Nate is running inside the SVR. And most of her superiors in the SVR seem to think she should get a bullet in the back of the head sooner or later, preferably sooner. She's got a very narrow path to walk to survive. And that involves, well, see above: lots of sex and violence, perpetrated by and against all involved.

It's way too long. JLaw keeps losing her Russian accent. (Should have watched more Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons, dollink.) And her character is sympathetic, but not that sympathetic.

This is another DVD Netflix sent me instead of the disk at the top of my queue, Tenet. And hence another reason I'm dropping my Netflix DVD subscription. After I get Tenet.

Moontide

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

I've decided to bag my Netflix DVD subscription. Reasons:

  • It takes a long time for shipped DVDs to arrive. I'm sure the USPS is partially to blame, but come on. I suspect that the main reason things are slow is that they've cut back their shipping facilities.
  • Theoretically-available DVDs at the top of my queue are marked with "short wait" (or sometimes "very long wait") and I get shipped something further down in the queue instead. The current movie getting this treatment is Tenet. The DVD was released back in December, it's been top-of-queue since then, and … still haven't gotten it.
  • They don't even buy DVDs that they could send out. There are 21 DVDs in my "Saved" queue. Some of them aren't available yet. But there are a bunch that are, and … well, I guess there's no incentive for Netflix to stock them.

I'm probably slow on the uptake, and should have done this long ago. Netflix doesn't want to be in the disc-shipping biz, and if it takes lousy service to get rid of its loyal customers, so be it.

So (ahem) this movie is one of the last Netflix DVDs. A 1942 movie set in coastal California, where Bobo (Jean Gabin) and his pals Nutsy (Claude Rains) and Tiny (Thomas Mitchell) mainly work just enough to support their drinking and carousing habits. Unfortunately, fellow carouser Pop Kelly has been strangled. And (for some reason) Bobo has his hat the next day.

But never mind! Bobo also heroically rescues Anna (Ida Lupino) from a suicidal walk into the ocean. She does not initially appreciate the favor. I suppose suicidal people don't usually like people to spoil their plans. But gradually love blooms. And Bobo takes up semi-steady employment at a bait shack. And he shows a decent mechanical aptitude when a philandering doctor happens by with his malfunctioning speedboat. And…

Well, stuff happens. John O'Hara wrote the screenplay, so the dialog is definitely above average.

Mary Poppins Returns

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Spoiler Alert: in this movie, Mary Poppins returns. As Emily Blunt, not Julie Andrews.

I can't help but observe that this moves Mary up a couple notches on the sexy scale. Is it just me?

You need to remember that the original movie had Mary nannying Michael and Jane. They're all grown up here, and widower Michael has his own brood: Annabel, Georgie, and John. And Michael's in deep financial trouble, about to lose his house.

Fortunately, Mary shows up. (It seems to take a real long time for her to show up.) And does her usual thing: taking the kids into semi-animated fantasies with big song-and-dance production numbers.

And (spoiler alert for real this time): Dick Van Dyke!

Dead Reckoning

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Back in ancient times (1972), Woody Allen made funny movies. I enjoyed Play It Again, Sam, in which an illusory Humphrey Bogart provides real-time romantic advice to Allen's character.

Well, actually not Bogart; it's the character Bogie played in numerous movies: hard-boiled, cynical, self-assured, and a chick magnet. At one point, Bogie seeks to calm Allen's date-night jitters: "Relax. You're as nervous as Lizabeth Scott was before I blew her brains out."

Well, trivia fans: this is the only movie Bogart made with Lizabeth Scott. And (spoiler alert) he does not blow her brains out.

Also, Bogie never (quite) said "Play it again, Sam" in Casablanca.

So don't put Woody Allen on your team for movie trivia night.

But this movie: Bogart's character, 'Rip' Murdock, is returning from WWII to America with his Army buddy Johnny. When Rip reveals that they're headed to Washington, where Johnny is to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor, Johnny inexplicably takes a powder, hopping a train to WhoKnowsWhereVille.

Rip is nonplussed by Johnny's behavior, and resolves to find out what's going on with his buddy. He tracks Johnny to Gulf City, a sin-filled Southern town. Unfortunately, what he finds is a corpse in the morgue, burned beyond recognition. A little research in a newspaper archive finds the problem: before he signed up with the Army, Johnny was a murder suspect. The victim was a rich guy, and testifying against Johnny was the rich guy's wife… ah, there she is, Lizabeth Scott! And a little further investigation shows that she's somehow tied up with local racketeer Martinelli.

So who killed the rich guy? And who killed Johnny? And … hey … who killed the bartender whose corpse has been planted in Murdock's hotel room?

It's a complex plot, all right. I think it gets straightened out in the end. Lizabeth doesn't get her brains blown out, but something else bad happens.

The Gentlemen

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Produced by Guy Ritchie. Written by Guy Ritchie. Directed by Guy Ritchie. Good job, Guy.

It's a complex, intricately plotted story of the British marijuana trade. Since pot is still illegal in Great Britain, the folks in charge are criminals. Very rich criminals, but still.

The narrative is framed by sleazy private eye Fletcher (Hugh Grant) blackmailing Ray (Charlie Hunnam); Ray is the consigliare to the big boss, Michael (Matthew McConaughey). (Fletcher was hired by even-sleazier tabloid magnate "Big Dave" (Eddie Marsan) to expose Michael, in revenge for a social slight, but Fletcher figures he can do better for himself via his blackmail scheme.)

Michael is trying to put together a nine-figure deal (where those figures are in British pounds) to sell off his empire to Matthew (Jeremy Strong); his goal is to retire and kick back with his lovely wife Rosalind (Lady Mary herself, Michelle Dockery). But there's no honor among thieves, and a lot of effort is put into pushing the deal off the rails. Violently.

Well, that's just the tip of the iceberg. There are a few more major characters, and a bunch more minor ones. And there's not a lot of downtime, no strolling by the river to ponder the meaning of it all. The also movie jumps back and forth in time a bit, too. You have to pay attention!

There's also a considerable amount of absurdity and humor amidst all the mayhem. Good stuff.

Heaven Can Wait

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

A fun screwball comedy from 1943, directed by Ernst Lubitsch.

The way the afterlife works: you get to apply to the place you want to go to. Poor Henry (Don Ameche) decides to go straight to Hell ("where innumerable people had told him so often to go"). He's apparently not big on self-esteem. This involves an interview with "His Excellency", aka Satan. (Laird Cregar, a role he was born to play.) We are then taken on a cinematic journey through Henry's life, centering on his romance and marriage with Martha (Gene Tierney). It's full of hijinx and as much innuendo as you could get away with in 1943. The supporting cast is wonderful too.

The movie was Oscar-nominated for Best Picture. But it lost to Casablanca. There's no shame in losing to Casablanca.

Mrs. Salad remarked on how much Laird Cregar looked like a modern American pol. What do you think?

[Laird and Ted]

Bill & Ted Face the Music

[1.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Well, it was a nice try, I suppose. In the sense that one of these coldly-calculated sequels to fondly-remembered movies is a "nice try" to shake some cash out of movie-fan wallets.

The original movies were in 1989 and 1991. Let's see, math… yes, thirty years ago. I watched them both. They were kind of amusing fluff. But this movie relies on me remembering plot details of three-decade-old fluff in order to make sense out of what's happening here.

Anyway: Bill and Ted are older, still married to the medieval princesses they grabbed in the first movie. They each have a daughter, who echo their fathers' blissful cluelessness. Unfortunately, they've failed as a rock band, and (more importantly) failed to fulfill their promised destiny of writing and performing a song that will bring the world together in harmony. And time's running out for that: they're notified that they have a little over an hour to accomplish the feat, else the universe will be destroyed.

It's amazing how little I cared about the universe being destroyed.

The movie gets one star, thanks to this bit of trivia

When dialing infinity Ted speaks the number sequences "2718" (pause) "1828". The natural base of logarithms "e" is 2.718281828...

I like math jokes. Too bad there weren't more of them.

[2021-01-07 update: I listened to this week's Reason interview on this morning's dog walk. Nick Gillespie interviewed Alex Winter, who plays Bill. Or maybe Ted. I forget. But anyway: Alex Winter is nothing like his character: he's intelligent, articulate, well-read. Which means he's a great actor, becuase you'd never get that from the Bill & Ted movies.]


Last Modified 2021-01-07 10:34 AM EST

Ava

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

A Netflix streamer. For some reason, Hollywood makes a lot of these lady assassin movies, where the lady assassin's employers decide she's more trouble than she's worth. Where they decide to take her off the board with extreme prejudice. And soon discover they've got more than they bargained for. How long have they been doing this? Well, I thought back to The Long Kiss Goodnight where Geena Davis filled the role.

So anyway, the lady assassin here is Ava, played by Jessica Chastain. Her handler is father-figure Duke, played by John Malkovich. And Duke's boss, the one who decides he's had enough of Ava's quirks is Simon, played by Colin Farrell.

What's different is that when Ava decides she needs to get her head on straight, she heads back to Boston and her estranged family: sister Judy (Jess Weixler), her ex-boyfriend and Judy's current boyfriend Michael (Common), and they go to visit Mom in the hospital…

And, whoa: Mom is played by Geena Davis. I did not see that coming.

Anyway: lots of bad language, violence, smoking. And (spoiler, why not) an inconclusive ending. If you hate those, avoid. Or turn off the set about thirty seconds before the movie ends.